How To Have An Eco Wedding
A Deep Dive Into The Environmental Impacts Of Weddings
Many of you will agree that once you start noticing things like single-use plastic, wastefulness, plastic novelty items that will never degrade and have little to no value, unnecessary packaging, you can’t stop noticing it! That is when it starts to affect your everyday decision making. You find yourself going out of your way to pack a water bottle, or your lunch, or taking the time to walk instead of drive, you do the best you can wherever and whenever you can. So what happens to this feeling when you dial it up beyond everyday decisions, let’s say for example if you start planning a big event, like a wedding?!?!
Well, folks, this is just the position I am in right now, I’m planning my wedding for 2021. Ms ‘Just do you best’ is now asking herself ‘how am I going to do my best’ on a much bigger scale. I figured as I am not the first eco queen to be in this boat I would reach out to some of my green pals and fellow eco-business owners and get the skinny on how to have an eco wedding, and as I won’t be the last eco queen in this boat I would share my finding with you all so my research gets it own reuse/recycle treatment!
People are forever saying ‘it’s your day’ so if you spend your life trying to minimise your carbon footprint this is going to come up as a top concern in your wedding planning… especially when weddings can be a carbon catastrophe!
So here it is, our top 5 eco wedding pain points, and what you can do to take that pain away!
Moving all of those people and things to and from a place can cause some serious carbon emissions.
1.5 tonnes of carbon just for 100 guests to go 50 miles! If we get into weddings abroad this is easily more like 26.1 tonnes of CO2 just for 50 guests! These numbers are here to give you a little food for thought and are not even the full picture of wedding logistics issues. We also have to consider the transportation of food, equipment, and anything else necessary for the big day! When it comes to logistics, local is always best.
How did I get the above headline numbers? I had a little fun on using my pals at The World Land Trust’s Carbon Calculator (find it here https://www.worldlandtrust.org/carbon-calculator/ )
The first estimate is based on 100 people travelling for 100 miles for a wedding (a 50-mile round which the internet tells me is pretty average for a party of wedding guests in the UK). I calculated based on parties of 2 sharing a medium sizes petrol car.
The second estimate is based on 50 people flying a round trip from London Heathrow to Malaga Spain, however, I did not consider any miles to and from the airport, yikes!
What can you do about your weddings logistical impact? Well, our friends at the World Land Trust also gave us some amounts we could pay to carbon offset out hypothetical journeys. To offset 1.5 tonnes it would cost £23, and in line with this to offset 26.1 tonnes it would cost £392. So, offsetting your logistical emissions might be something you want to consider in your wedding budget.
Another place you can offset your carbon emissions at https://www.goldstandard.org/take-action/offset-your-emissions
This place comes recommended by Dr Katie Chong and it is also the place we offset our business emissions here at PRH! Did you hear, we are Carbon Neutral now!
Many eco enthusiasts will know that nothing better than not making the emissions in the first place, so consider staying local to the majority of your guests and sourcing local suppliers and locally grown food, if that is an option.
Another pro tip from my Eco pal Suraya is to help organise ride shares with your guests so you can minimise on the numbers of vehicles travelling to and from your wedding venue.
Soil bleaching, air freighting, pesticide spraying florists are bad news.
Traditionally weddings are full of flowers, with bouquets, buttonholes, table centres, pew ends, and anything else a couple might dream up, and what is the problem with that you cry? Yes, real flowers are wonderful, beautiful, natural things and not yukky single-use plastic, but floristry has some BIG eco issues you might not be aware of!
Remember Dr Katie Chong from our podcast on climate change? Floristry was one of the first issues she raised with me when I told her my plans to write this blog on Eco weddings, plus it came up a number one issue with both the Eco brides I’ve reached out to on this topic… So I thought I better go to an authority on the subject and get an insider perspective on Eco Floristry, cue Emma of EcoBlooms www.ecoblooms.co.uk
“I have been a florist for over ten years. I started to investigate the industry after noticing certain [problematic] things”
Emma explained that many of the flowers available in the UK had come from all over the world, typically, countries like Ecuador, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
“They are transported in refrigerated trucks which use more fuel. They are then of course flown to Holland usually where they go to auction. All this is mounting a huge carbon footprint.”
Another issue with Flortisty is the process used to create these perfect blooms. Flowers are mass-produced under poor conditions. The solid is bleached between crops and heaps of horrid pesticides are bumped all over the place.
“Flowers are not edible crops so are exempt from pesticide regulations. Examples of these are Methyl Bromide, it is highly harmful to humans and the environment. These flowers are usually grown with intense irrigation systems, so use masses of water. The conditions in the grow houses are often incredibly poor, the pay is low and hours long. The chemicals have been known to cause miscarriage as well as other health issues.” Emma also pointed out that these crops are grown to be “perfect” for the consumer which leads to a high wastage of these mass-produced GM flowers.
We asked Emma what can we do about this as Eco brides, and also people that like the odd bunch of flowers in our homes?!
“Florists have a hard time trying to compete with supermarkets and the popular internet companies however, many of your high street florists are now thinking much more environmentally and offering more British and seasonal flowers. So, my advice is to support the locals! The more we use the independents the less power the supermarkets have, and our high streets can flourish again. With this, they can afford to use more eco-friendly options such as organic locally grown.
I started EcoBlooms a few years ago and I try to do things a little differently. I use local flower farms. I am extremely lucky to have an organic flower farm within a mile of my business called “Branch out “ where they operate as a charity employing adults with learning difficulties, as well as others such as Merri, Howbury and Haylane. I do not use floral foam in my designs as it is plastic and toxic, nor do I use any other plastics. I wrap in paper or hessian sacks. My flowers are more natural, they have a beautiful smell and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, colours as Nature intended.
My top tip for a bride trying to be more Eco in her wedding choices is to ask your florist to avoid using foam or plastics of any kind and source British flowers preferably from a local flower farm. Also, be flexible, if you are going eco it means using seasonal flowers, not everything is available all year round, but whatever the season an eco-florist can create something beautiful!”
Eco bride Suraya offered up this tip on the topic, from her wedding planning;
“ If you can’t find such a florist, another option is to decorate with potted plants from a local organic plant nursery or grow your own from seed if you have space. Then you can offer these to friends to take home as a memento.”
Another great suggestion comes from Eco Bride Caz who had a succulent bouquet for her wedding, she said “I’ve always loved succulents and disliked cut flowers as they just die in front of your eyes! I loved the idea of a succulent bouquet (thank you Pinterest!) and especially loved that they could be grown on after the wedding as a lasting memento.” Isn’t Pinterest just a wedding planning goddess send?!
If you want a deep dive on the damage caused to the environment by traditional floristry, our science babe Dr Katie Chong gave us this link to share on the topic from Scientific American, read it here!
Waste! What goes into the bin after a wedding?
When you start to think of all the areas of a wedding that can create waste your mind falls out! Over Catering, gifts no one wants, single-use plates and cups, invites, decoration are just a few I can think of. So the following pain points all come under the umbrella of waste. Let us do a breakdown on how to waste less with ease!
Catering and Food Waste
Over catering is often an issue where lots of food goes to waste, not to mention the carbon and welfare concerns around farming, growing, and transporting food. Plus, catering itself creates plenty of trash, your caterers might even want to use plastic cutlery or other single-use items depending on your set up.
Even if a lot of what you are producing can be recycled it isn’t a great way to go as something like only 9% of what we put into recycling gets recycled. Shocking, I know! This is especially worth considering when it comes to running your bar.
Suraya said “One of the things we were shocked by was how many empty bottles there were after our wedding — especially beer bottles. If you’re paying for the booze, it’s fair to ask the bar to only serve tap beers. They’ll probably be very happy with that because they won’t have to lug so many full bins out during the night.”
Don’t be afraid to ask caterers or venues about their food sourcing and what they do with any waste, it is a valid question in 2020!
Suraya added, “It’s hard to find a way of disposing of it responsibly at the last minute, but if you plan in advance you should be able to find a charity to take leftover meals and/or a pig farm to collect scraps.”
Talking of disposing of things responsibly, Eco bride Caz made some great choices with regards to catering waste for her wedding. She shared that “The venue was a blank canvas so we were able to hire in all the essentials, for example, crockery and cutlery for the meals, so we were able to keep disposables to a minimum. For the small amount of disposables we needed (like welcome drinks) we were able to buy compostable hot and cold cups and plates. With the day being busy we knew we wouldn’t have time to sort any recycling so we made sure to choose compostable items that could go with any food waste. Our workplace at the time was using a company that made take out boxes from reclaimed sugarcane, so we looked them up and found really cute heart-shaped palm leaf plates which were perfect! They had a large range of other compostable items so it made sense to order all we needed from there. Highly recommend vegware.com/uk !”
We recently caught wind of a wedding that used food that would have otherwise been binned to cater for their entire wedding. Environmentalist couple Kayley Cookson and Joe Tilston used ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ to cater their wedding providing 250kg of edible good which would have just ended up in landfill!
The Real Junk Food Project was set up by Adam Smith in 2013 and is dedicated to bringing about a radical change in our food system. They have a tag line ‘Feed bellies, not bins’ and dedicate their time to intercepting food waste and redistributing it to individuals, cafes, freegan boxes, and more! We love what they are working on and are so inspired by the couple’s decision to cater this way. More on their store here!
If you want to take a deep dive on the planetary impact of your food decisions check out ‘Our World in Data’s page on food choice and eating locally here.
Dr Chong shared this with us on the subject of wedding catering and advised we should think carefully about our meat and dairy choices. She said, “Beef may be delicious but it’s the worst for emissions, and cheese too!” I have selected a venue that produces a lot of its own food for catering (and if we wanted beef this places raises its own, you can see the cow hanging out across the beautiful surrounding fields), anything they don’t produce the source locally keeping the impact as small as possible. I am going to have to swallow my guilt, literally, though when it comes to the cheese wedding cake. I’ll be doing 6 months to a year dairy-free as a personal offset, a bit like having all my dairy at once for the sake of my cheese-loving guests.
Gifts and Novelties
Weddings are full of gifts and novelties, from gifts to the bride and groom, to wedding favours. Many venues or services will offer personalised signs and other novelties in their packages, and I guess we need to include hen party blow up willies in this section too.
Eco bride Suraya shared the opinion that “Wedding gifts nowadays don’t serve the purpose they originally served — to help the bride and groom get all the practical things they needed to set up their new home! So it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for cash or no gifts. Doing so will cut down on unnecessary consumption of objects that you don’t end up using.”
I think this is a great idea, I am sure aunt soandso will be much happier knowing that you are going to get something you actually want/need with her hard-earned cash rather than an electric calver that comes out once a year at Christmas and will literally never biodegrade! Plus weddings are expensive, whoever you are and however you chose to do it most people will feel the pinch so if you end up emptying your savings for a wedding let the guests top you back up a little and hang on to it for a rainy day, or your furry baby’s next vet bill!
I may never have had a wedding but I certainly have been to a few and I have to ask ‘What is up with wedding favours?!’ I have received everything from sugared almonds in a little gauze bag, to test tube shots, to a little nail polish. This seems like an area where couples can easily make an eco decision as there are no hard and fast rules about what is expected with this tradition. The best favour I received was a donation made to a charity on behalf of all the guests. Everyone received an enamel pin bag to represent the donation, which was thoughtful but as I’ve never worn mine I did wonder if just the donation would have been enough.
My partner and I are considering going for handmade, all-natural bath bombs for ours as they are consumable so won’t take up space in peoples homes, end up in landfill, or hang around the planet forever. I imagine after our party everyone will need a soothing soak, however, I did look at lots of sustainable keepsakes, low carbon items, and items that could be useful to my guests but personally as a Londoner space is at a premium and I don’t like giving people things that will take up space in their homes or end up in a bin, even if they are sustainably sourced.
Dr Katie suggested seed bunches as a lovely symbolic wedding favour for guests, as well as little saplings. Eco bride Caz said she “used British wildflower seed packets and mini succulent plants as wedding favours so they could also have a lasting memento and help out the bees!“
Suraya also added that “It’s becoming more and more popular to provide entertainment packs for children. You don’t have to do this, but if you do, it’s worth being mindful of the impact of all these little items, especially things like glitter and stickers. A few printed colouring-in pictures or activity sheets, and a pack of crayons or pencils will often be more than enough.”
I guess you just want a little something to keep them chill during the speeches, especially if you’ve got a crew of people speaking who love the sound of their voices!
As a final note on the topic of waste Dr Katie offered the following thoughts
“Rather than sending individual cards, get people to sign a guestbook, or something else commemorative. Signing a Jenga block is idea because you will store the carbon in that wood for a long time.” Wooden things are always a great choice as it is one of the best forms of carbon capture! She also suggested that an online guest book with a digital picture would be light with regards to environmental impact, and you could even use the same website for invites and communication with guests – lots of potential paper saved here.
Fabrics, and New Clothing!
Clothing is a pretty interesting topic when it comes to weddings. Often the bride and groom are getting some new, fair enough, but so are the bride’s party, groom’s party, and probably most of the guests. Of course, you want everyone to feel their best and be in what they are comfortable in, yes, but clothing has such a high environmental impact. I found some pretty scary facts about fast fashion including that the fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply and pollutes the oceans with microplastics. 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics- tiny pieces of non-biodegradable plastic- in the ocean come from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester. More here: https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/46622
Suraya had this bit of sound advice to share with us on the topic “Folks are becoming much more aware of the high environmental impact of buying new clothes, so it’s worth seriously considering hiring outfits, or getting something second-hand or vintage. The question we got asked the most by guests in the run-up to our wedding was, ‘What do you want us to wear?’ People were concerned to make sure they weren’t underdressed. If you’re not worried about what your guests wear, make that clear, so people don’t feel they have to buy something new unless they want to.”
With regards to the wedding dress itself, personally, I am not totally into the idea of spending £1200 on something I am only going to wear once so I have been trawling the internet finding tonnes of ‘Pre Loved’ bridal dresses in bridal boutiques, vintage stores, and direct on eBay, and unsurprisingly they are all as good as new, only having been worn once! Shout out to Electric Brides who not only have tonnes of preloved dresses but offer a pretty awesome custom dye service if you want that alternative dip-dye dress look, which is a big yes from me! https://www.eclecticbrides.co.uk/
Finally, Dr Katie Chong weighed in on this topic suggesting that we could “Encourage your guests to reuse or recycle old outfits, rather than buying something new they will only wear once. If they do want to buy something new, make sure it is from a sustainable label, and something they would want to wear again. Same for your wedding dress – if you can, buy something you would wear again, or that you could get altered to wear again! And try to use natural sustainable fabrics – polyester shirts produce equivalent to 5.5kg of carbon vs 2.1kg from a cotton shirt.” and share this great link to a deep dive on Fashion and the environment, if you really want to understand the impact of your clothing decisions! Check out ‘Sustainable Fashion – How to buy clothes that are good for the climate’ here!
So that about wraps it up! Hopefully, you’ve got some great ideas for how to make your wedding a bit more planet-friendly. Remember, you might be not able to do everything we talk about here, but any efforts you make will be better than none, so just do the best you can with what you’ve got! If we all do that then the world is in much better shape!
A special thanks to all the eco specialists, eco brides and eco businesses that helped me with this epic blog. You can find out more about them at the following links
Emma Eco Florist at EcoBlooms: Facebook @ecobloomfloristry / Instagram @ecobloomfloristry / www.ecoblooms.co.uk
Suraya Writer and Artist based in beautiful New Zealand: https://sss-art.nz/
Dr Katie Chong Environment Wizard Queen: https://research.aston.ac.uk/en/persons/katie-chong
Caz Carnage – Alt Eco Queen and Boss at Stalls From The Crypt https://www.facebook.com/stallsfromthecrypt/
Eco tableware and more products from Vegware – https://www.vegware.com/uk/
The Wood Land Trust – To date, WLT has helped secure more than 881,000 acres of threatened habitat in 20 countries: https://www.worldlandtrust.org
The Sustainable Wedding Movement Directory for a bit more FYI: https://www.thesustainableweddingmovement.co.uk/supplier-directory
The Real Junk Food Project – For more info on them: https://trjfp.com/
The Yorkshire Evening Post – Article on Junk Food Caters: https://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/people/real-junk-food-project-caters-wedding-entirely-food-destined-bin-631259?fbclid=IwAR020xBFuGVwSwgNdaaLufqqbQnXwmPfFQMV-19g7kpPTpigarbNoldWJn0
A bit more on microplastics in the ocean: https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/46622
More on Carbon Offsetting and an emissions calculation: https//www.goldstandard.org/take-action/offset-your-emissions
A deep dive on this eco issues with floristry and flower growing: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/environmental-price-of-flowers/#:~:text=According%20to%20Flowerpetal.com%2C%20which,from%20field%20to%20U.S.%20florist.
Help for making better decisions surround the environmental impact of your food choices: https://ourworldindata.org/food-choice-vs-eating-local
More of the planetary impact of fashion and fabrics: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200310-sustainable-fashion-how-to-buy-clothes-good-for-the-climate